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How to Use A Tens Unit

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What do I need to know about a TENS unit?

A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit is a treatment for pain. A TENS unit is a small, portable, battery-powered device. The TENS unit uses mild, safe electrical signals to help control pain. Electrodes (sticky patches) are placed on your skin. The TENS unit sends painless electrical signals through the electrodes to the nerves under your skin. Electrode placement depends on the type and location of your pain. Your healthcare provider will show you where to place the electrodes and what settings are best for you.

How do I use a TENS unit?

  • Test the battery pack of the TENS unit to make sure it is fully charged. The TENS unit has 2 control knobs. One control knob makes the electrical signals strong or weak. The other control knob makes the electrical signals fast or slow. Turn the control knobs to the off position before you start.
  • Use rubbing alcohol to clean the skin where the electrodes will be placed. Let your skin dry.
  • Put a thin coat of gel on the bottom of each electrode. This gel helps the electrical signal get to the nerves under your skin.
  • Put the electrodes on your skin and use medical tape or a sticky patch to cover the electrode. This keeps the electrode firmly stuck to the skin. Ask for help if you cannot reach the area where the electrodes should go.
  • Hook the pin connectors on the end of the electrode wires to the electrodes. Then plug the electrode wires into the TENS unit.
  • Turn the control knobs slowly to the correct setting. You should feel a tingling feeling.
  • Hook the TENS unit to your belt or place it in a pocket.

What should I do after the TENS treatment?

  • Turn the control knobs to the off position. Unplug the electrode wires from the TENS unit.
  • The electrodes may be left on your skin if you have another TENS treatment soon. If not, remove the electrodes. Wash the skin where the electrodes were placed. Clean the electrodes with soap and water to remove the gel. Do not use alcohol because this can damage the rubber on the electrode. Get new electrodes if the electrodes become damaged or will not stay stuck to the skin.
  • Remove the battery from the TENS and replace it with a charged battery. Charge the battery so that it will be ready for another treatment.

What else do I need to know about a TENS unit?

  • Tell your healthcare provider if your muscles start to twitch during treatment. The TENS signals may be too strong or too fast. Also tell him if you cannot feel any tingling at all. The signal may be too weak or too slow.
  • The electrodes should be removed at least once a day if the TENS treatment is used around the clock. Check your skin under the electrodes for redness or tenderness. Clean your skin when the electrodes are off and use lotion. Move the electrodes slightly for each treatment. This will help prevent the skin from becoming red or sore. Put new gel on the bottom of the electrodes each time you place them on your skin.
  • Do not sleep or get near water with the electrodes on your skin and the TENS unit turned on.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.